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Vote of no confidence in a time of political decadence

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Vote of no confidence in a time of political decadence

Photo by Ivor Markman
Raymond Suttner

7th August 2017

By: Raymond Suttner

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decadence…the process, period, or manifestation of moral or cultural decline….”

-South African Concise Oxford Dictionary.

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It is hard to maintain interest in the various gyrations of ANC MPs, the report that some will vote against Zuma in an open ballot in the vote of no confidence, though many more, it is said, will vote against him if there were to be a secret ballot.  We have no idea how many fall into each category or why they vote or would secretly like to vote in one way or another.

Would their vote be determined on ethical grounds–if they felt free of intimidation in a secret ballot? Or is it a calculation made, with a view to remaining a MP or a Minister or to continue to derive other benefits, seen as best safeguarded through retaining Zuma in power? Or, alternatively, in order to keep these benefits and opportunities, might some not see this as best safeguarded by removing Zuma?

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We do not really know what it is that is agitating many or most MPs over this vote. Does this sense of disquiet found amongst MPs and ministers, which is not manifested in their engaging in generalised action to remove Zuma, deserve our respect, as citizens of the country?

Jacob Zuma has led the ANC since late 2007 and the country since 2009. His rise to the ANC presidency was based on his being depicted as possessing qualities that his supporters, notably in the SACP, knew to be false. Those who voted for him had been told that he was a person with leadership qualities and a political orientation that he did not possess.

Admittedly a range of others, in the media, in academia and in business also welcomed the rise of Zuma, sometimes seeing him as a person with whom they “could work” or representing a breath of fresh air, compared with what was attributed to Mbeki or as bearing other qualities that they understood to at least be different from that they found problematic or unacceptable in Mbeki.

That he represented something that was antagonistic to democracy and constitutionalism, gender equality and respect for and development of all cultures as dynamic features of South African life has been amply manifested over the years of his leadership. What has been as shameful and shameless as Zuma’s conduct is the collusion by ANC MPs in his acts of enrichment and dishonesty, hyperpatriarchy and pseudo cultural expressions over these years. 

Some of the best minds of the ANC and SACP were deployed to defend Zuma over Nkandla. They used every logical stratagem that they knew. They gave their best to defend him. This continued right up until the Constitutional Court found that Zuma, the Speaker and the National Assembly were all in breach of their oaths of office.

Everyone who engaged in these acts of complicity has subsequently said that they now recognise that they made “mistakes” and momentum appears to have gathered for removal of Zuma, with two NEC meetings debating calls for him to resign. The SACP and COSATU have also called on him to resign.

Yet, we are told that ANC MPs are not allowed to support the forthcoming motion of no confidence scheduled for 8 August. This is an opposition motion and, it said, under no circumstances could the ANC side with the opposition. In the words of Minister of Police, Fikile Mbalula those who vote in favour of the motion of no confidence, would be the equivalent of suicide bombers. Not to be outdone by this exaggerated language, Jackson Mthembu previously depicted as a man of great courage at the end of 2016 when he initiated a motion of no confidence in Zuma –now says that removing Zuma in a motion of no confidence would be like dropping a nuclear bomb.

Where are we now? The public was given to understand that endorsing Zuma over Nkandla was now seen to have been a terrible, terrible mistake, which the ANC and SACP leadership now deeply, very deeply regrets. 

In more recent times we have come to understand that the wrongs of Nkandla, like the corrupt payments made to Zuma by Shabir Shaik, and even the 783 fraud and corruption charges that Zuma has been trying to evade were actually minor individual acts of enrichment compared with what we are now uncovering.

It has been argued that state capture amounts to treason insofar as it entails much more than individual corrupt relationships but the ceding of state sovereignty to a family who choose and give directions to Ministers, Directors Generals, board members of State Owned Entities and others charged with making key decisions in relation to state resources. Deputy President and presidential candidate Cyril Ramaphosa has called for a commission of enquiry and charges against those implicated. The first accused, we know, ought obviously to be President Jacob Zuma. If that is so, logic ought to demand that he vote for a motion of no confidence. But practice would seem to indicate otherwise.

The current motion of no confidence is related to wrongdoing going well beyond what was at stake in Nkandla. If Zuma’s conduct entailed enrichment and a breach of the presidential oath of office how much more of a breach and how much greater is the enrichment enjoyed through enabling the capture of the state and handing over of decision-making in crucial matters to the Guptas?

What is required of a patriot, a person who has some sense of loyalty to his or her country, located in parliament at this moment in time? Whatever such individuals may have done that we consider wrong in the past, surely they now have a duty to act in the interests of the country and remove the chief wrongdoer, that is, the current president? What difference does it make if the DA has brought this motion? Is it automatically wrong to support everything initiated by the DA? Or is this not symptomatic of the decay in the liberation project, once associated with ethical conduct in relation to the interests of the country? 

The word decay is associated with decline from previous excellence or greatness. I consciously use the word decay and decadence because we are speaking, in the case of the ANC and SACP and very many MPs of a liberation movement that was the prime factor in securing liberation from apartheid. Many of those sitting in the ANC benches were amongst those who risked everything to bring that about, often spending years in military camps or risking their lives in combat or other ways or being brutally tortured and sitting in prison in order to give us the democracy we ought to be enjoying.

Have years of wrongdoing now immunised them against ethical conduct?  Are they so inured to acting against the interests of the country that they have no sense of shame?

My sense is what is going to happen this week is one more signal that we can no longer rely on the ANC or the institutions of state, under the organisation’s control, to defend our freedom. That means that, wherever we are located, we must find our own ways of recovering the promise of freedom that many of us still cherish. There are people who are marching and that must be applauded. But there are a range of other ways in which we can all make a difference, whether in professions, as workers, as organised unemployed workers, civic organisations, faith based organisations, teachers, students, nurses, doctors and in a range of other locations. Certainly we must use our vote.  But the sectors where we are located are also sites of power and that can be deployed in ways that enhance democratic accountability but also themselves be places of democratic expression.

[This issue of how individuals and parties, especially the SACP (whose public statements are somewhat ambiguous), may vote is fluid.  Consequently some of the assumptions in this article might need to be modified in the light of developments after the article appears]

Raymond Suttner is a scholar and political analyst. He is a Part-time Professor attached to Rhodes University and an Emeritus Professor at UNISA. He served lengthy periods in prison and house arrest for underground and public anti-apartheid activities. His prison memoir Inside Apartheid’s prison has recently been reissued with a new introduction covering his more recent “life outside the ANC” by Jacana Media. He blogs at raymondsuttner.com and his twitter handle is @raymondsuttner

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